Gaby Weber
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Lawsuit against Bundeskanzleramt (National Security Council) for access to information (initiated in 2019)

Anyone writing about the export of weapons of war should always quote Article 26 of the German Grundgesetz (Verfassung) first: "Acts tending to and undertaken with intent to disturb the peaceful relations between nations shall be unconstitutional. They shall be criminalized”.


But reality tells a different story, and yesterday the Superior Administrative Court of Berlin (OVG) unfortunately did not end the habit of the German Chancellery maintaining secret the archives of the Federal Security Council (BSR) - which takes decisions on arms exports – declaring them "a central area of the executive".


In 2016, I filed a request with the Federal Chancellery for access to the files of the BSR referring to weapons supplied to the dictatorships of Chile, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, from 1972 to 1985. According to the Federal Archives Law (IFG), all documents are accessible after 30 years. Only in some very exceptional cases this period may be extended. However, the office of Mrs. Merkel wants to transform this exception into a general principle and the Chancellery into an impregnable fortress against democracy. In court, they used three arguments:

1) The Chancellery is not an archive and, unlike the Federal Foreign Office, it is not directed at the public. A review of tens of thousands of documents is an "unreasonable administrative burden". Why, then, do they refuse to turn over the BSR files to the Federal Archives, that is responsible for preparing large amounts of data for the public? No answer.

2) BSR files must be kept secret more than 30 years so as not to harm the "welfare of the state". Other governments may possibly obtain crucial information and draw relevant conclusions from the files.

3) Even the finding aids that I requested could not be disclosed because they contain secret information.
The Chancellery sent me some BSR documents, analysis of newspaper articles and, in some cases, entire pages were blocked, for example, in the "special case of Chile" and on "legal issues". These “issues” are obviously interpretations with which the Federal Security Council evaded legal prohibitions. Quotation from a BSR memorandum on the military dictatorship in Buenos Aires: "Argentina is one of the largest importers of German weapons outside of NATO." The Security Council had approved submarines, anti-tank missiles, torpedoes, cannons, and frigates for the generals. "Respect for the human rights plays an important role in public debate, but it is not one of the relevant decision criteria according to our "political principles”. The minutes are from 1981, still in the era of the Social Democrat Helmut Schmidt and shortly before the Falkand (Malwinas) War.


The Chancellery sent me a list of two dozen documents that they didn't want to share with me. I brought a legal action before the administrative court. At the same time, I explored all files referring to Paraguay of the German Foreign Office from 1952-1985. That was a lot of paper work, but a good finding aid made it easy to choose which files I had to go through page by page. In these records I found the evaluations of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs regarding export of weapons of war into the bloody dictatorship of General Stroessner during the 1970s: The companies Rheinmetall and Heckler & Koch supplied submachine guns and cannons, and Paraguayan police officers were taught at German military academies - including officers who were known as infamous torturers. The Foreign Office justified this export of weapons and officer training with the argument of the "traditionally good relationship" between the two countries (see my documentary). From the protocols of the BSR - under a social-democratic Chancellor - I hoped for evidences as to whether the arms trade had been connected with donations for political parties. In the Kohl era (from October 1982 on) the volume of arms exports tripled and no other area of the German economy paid such high bribes - and not only to South American military personnel.


Details can be found in the book "Schwarzbuch Waffenhandel", which I mention here only as a reminder: Ludwig Holger Pfahls, from the team of the Bavarian State Chancellery, then head of the Federal Internal Intelligence Office and State Secretary in the Ministry of Defense, arranged for the export of tanks to Saudi Arabia; in return, 3.8 million Euros appeared in his Swiss bank account. All in all, 220 million Euros were paid in bribes. The share that went to the Christian Democratic Party CDU was not mentioned in the subsequent criminal proceedings. But Pfahls, CDU treasurer Walther Leisler Kiep and two managers of the German company Thyssen were convicted of bribery, as well as Heckler & Koch for illegal arms exports to Mexico. H&K had donated tens of thousands of Euros during several years to the electoral district of Volker Kauder, long-time head of the CDU parliamentary group and close confidante of Angela Merkel.


In the first instance, the Administrative Court of Berlin did not allow general secrecy for the BSR records and ordered the Chancellery to present the withheld BSR documents. However, the finding aids are not part of the archives, the court found. After that verdict, the Chancellery added a statement of "justification" for each document, why disclosure would harm the welfare of the federal republic; "justification" in quotation marks, because again only blanket statements were made, with no meaningful evidence. The Berlin Superior Administrative Court accepted this interpretation - I should only receive about a third of the blocked documents. And there is no right to review the finding aids, said the judges. The right to an appeal was not granted. I will exhaust all legal means.


According to my attorney Raphael Thomas the fact that the files of the Chancellery and the Security Council are not declared “secret in general and that the right for access to these records was affirmed" is a positive outcome. However, investigators and researchers need the finding aids of any archives in order to be able to carry out their work. A serious review is necessary what materials really should be kept secret until today, after more than 30 years, in a global environment that is completely changed. Such a review may conclude that the continued secrecy simply wishes to hide the fact that policymakers repeatedly offered permission for weapons exports in return for receiving party donations.


In South America today, civil society is campaigning for a broad revision of the time of dictatorships, and even the conservative governments are not opposing this and have signed corresponding laws and bilateral agreements. From the beginning of the 1980s, the German Foreign Office had changed its position and came to believe that the South American dictators were criminals and that the relationships were by no means as harmonious as had been written in the export permits for years. By refusing to disclose her files, the Chancellery turns out to be a grubby kid who wants to avoid public criticism.


(Translation of article in telepolis)